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Yankees Mailbag: What is happening with this team?

The mailbag has one simple directive to start off this week.

MLB: New York Yankees at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Good afternoon everyone, it’s time to dive back into the mailbag and answer some of your questions. Remember to send in your questions for our weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

The idiot that said, “Harper is coming” asks: Why? Why do we suck? Why do we somehow overachieve, while constantly underachieving? Why have we forgotten what the greatest team in organized sports is supposed to do? ... Win! Why does watching a Yankee game the past couple years leave me with the same feeling as getting a root canal? Why do I keep watching? Can you answer any of these questions? Asking for a friend.

I’m afraid I can’t answer all of your questions, but I’ll try to tackle the overarching theme. This year has been particularly painful to go through, and outside of that amazing first half of 2022, the past three seasons in general (and probably the COVID-shortened 2020) have been extremely wishy-washy for the Yankees. To me, that’s a long enough stretch to label this team for what it is — mediocre.

Mediocre teams have the potential to reach the stars thanks to a handful of players, but ultimately the overall composition of the roster holds them back. Mediocre teams are going to look brutal when they’re bad and electric when they’re good. Mediocre teams have to have a debate over whether they should be buyers or sellers — and all of that fits this team to a tee over the past few years (they’re also a near-even 82-80 over their past 162 games). When all is said and done this team will have to choose a direction for the remaining months, but figuring out which one to take will be difficult, let alone waiting it out afterward to see if they made the right choice.

Hal Steinbrenner asks: Asking for Brian, do you have to wait until right up to the deadline to make a trade, or could he do something to help sooner?

Mr. Steinbrenner, I would appreciate if you could use more official channels, but since you asked politely, I’ll forward the message. I think that the market in general this year is going to be frustrating, both because there are not a lot of defined sellers yet and because the gem of the field is going to take a while to figure out where he’s going. The Angels are reportedly going to wait until the last day or two before the deadline to decide on whether they will trade Shohei Ohtani, and that’s going to hold up a lot of other trades that are contingent on prospects that other teams would rather use to go and get baseball’s golden goose.

For the Yankees though, this may benefit them. It would likely take all of their prospect pool to even enter the conversation for Ohtani, and as incredible as it would be to have him in pinstripes, they need a lot more than just him or else they’ll simply be the East Coast Angels. Jumpstarting the rental market for players like Cody Bellinger and Jeimer Candelario while keeping an eye on the pitching market or pushing for the Padres to sell should they continue to slide might be the better play for New York this deadline, and then hope that whoever deals for the two-way superstar doesn’t win him over before he tests free agency.

jmack175 asks: Let’s say Ohtani would consider the Bronx next year, with the Yanks so close to the third tier tax penalty — can they even afford him? What dough is coming off the books other than Donaldson? Hell can they even take on any more salary at this deadline?

This deadline may be done as far as salary is concerned — they could pay a higher price in prospects to have teams eat the salaries for at least the remainder of this season in order to make moves — but there’s a decent amount of money coming off the books. On top of Donaldson’s $25 million, Luis Severino, Harrison Bader, Frankie Montas, Wandy Peralta, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa will enter free agency. Donaldson is owed a $6 million buyout per his option year, but factoring in all of those players that’s nearly $50 million freed up, which would be a baseline amount to negotiate with what Ohtani’s surely-massive contract will be.

Now, will Ohtani consider New York for 2024 and beyond? It’s doubtful, but it doesn’t hurt to try for a once-in-a-lifetime player. The Dodgers have to be overwhelming favorites for his services considering his previously established preference to stay on the West Coast and the prestige and talent of that franchise — it lines up almost how Gerrit Cole seemed destined to sign here back in 2019. Of course, the Dodgers made a run at Cole then, so why shouldn’t the Yankees make a bid or two? Forget expenses, it’s a bargain to sign an elite pitcher and one of the best hitters in the game for a single spot.

Shoducky asks: If and when Boonie gets the axe (see Aug.7), who might step in as interim manager? Willie Randolph, Don Mattingly, or might Hal stick with the no experience needed tag and make a big splash with Jeter?

I see a lot of the fanbase clamoring for legacy players to fill these spots, but I have to ask if people have seen the previous record of the guys that they want. Mattingly’s time as Dodgers manager resulted in several underperforming seasons before he was let go and then he toiled away in Miami, where the leash was looser but the results rarely changed. Jeter oversaw some of that personally as the executive, and his run there wasn’t too spectacular either. Asking him to step in as manager without any experience—which is how Aaron Boone started, by the way—is far from a sensible move, and certainly not a splash other than bringing in a name that will temporarily excite the fans.

Hiring legacy players as managers can often lead to highly awkward situations, too. Not everyone can translate the success they found in their younger days to become great leaders. The most famous example is Ted Williams, but in more recent years, Hall of Famer and Detroit legend Alan Trammell babysat the 2003 Tigers en route to 119 losses and was let go before Jim Leyland guided that ascending bunch to greater success. The bottom line is that past player skill is hardly an indicator of excellent managerial results.

Back to the 2023 Yankees, Boone is certainly facing a hotter seat than he’s felt across their tenure with the team (as is Cashman, but he signed a four-year extension eight months ago and is not going anywhere) The seat is arguably even hotter than after the Wild Card one-and-done in 2021, when Boone’s contract expired. The Yankees decided to bring him back on a three-year deal, and it seems unlikely that the front office will choose to cut him loose barely halfway through this deal. If anything, the offseason seems more possible, when Boone would be a lame duck heading into 2024.

If the Yankees continue to fumble this season enough, the axe may indeed fall. Just don’t expect the brand names that you might desire to be filling that void should it appear; the boring interim answer is probably just bench coach Carlos Mendoza.

set.builder39 asks: Been busy the past week plus, how the Yanks doing?

I recommend staying busy, personally.